Thursday, 16 July 2015

Tender Evaluation and moderation

Stephen Ashcroft of AECOM, and Spend Matters have highlighted a recent case between Bristol Missing Link (BMLL) and Bristol City Council.  They have fuller details but in short BMLL are the incumbents and have challenged the award of a contract to a new supplier after a tender process.  The decision was close, and the court has suspended the implementation of the contract until a full hearing of the challenge.

It will be interesting to hear what the verdict is in the full case, but in the meantime there are a couple of points to remind ourselves about when evaluating tendering.

The case hinges on the scoring process, and the subsequent moderation of those scores.  Bristol's case appears to be hampered by the lack of evidence (either written at the time or subsequently to the court) about those processes. 

The names of most of the individual evaluators have been redacted, as I would expect (at least in initial stages of the case).  Their initial scores have been significantly changed during the moderation stage because they were initially not in compliance with the published scoring regime - these changes were significant enough to change the award of the contract.

So the key points I take from this are;
- firstly, the (external) chair of the moderating panel should have emphasised before marking began that the published scoring regime must be used.  If they (she) did then the panel did not listen. 
- second, that instruction could/should have been documented to demonstrate compliance to process
- third, those scoring sheets are a matter of public record and available under the Freedom of Information Act for precisely this sort of situation
- fourth, moderation of scores is allowed and this was stated by the court
- fifth, they were correct to moderate rather than take a simple average
- sixth, they were correct to re-score at moderation to ensure the correct scoring process was adhered to, but
- seven, they should have documented that process including the instructions to evaluators, the process followed, and the consequences.  I am surprised that when the consequence of the re-scoring was a change in the successful bidder that this was not checked, re-checked, documented and reported in detail.  That is what I would have done.
- eight, there seems to have been no report on the tender process, which should be a matter of routine but particularly so when the decision is close or is in any way subject to re-evaluation
- nine, the evaluation panel are either unwilling to give evidence or have been instructed not to give evidence to the court, which does not help their claim to be acting in an open, honest and transparent manner (regardless of whether they actually are doing so, which I expect they are).

What do I take from this?  Well as chair of the panel, do instruct your evaluators and make a note of doing so.  Document the moderation process.  When bids have to be re-scored, then ensure that all bids are scored using the same regime and all the individual evaluators are fully committed to their scores for each bid.  When bids are close, get evaluators to double check their scoring and document the responses.  Do write a tender report detailing the process, the scores, any issues, and comment on the overall result.  Do create an evidence trail, and do expect that trail to be public knowledge (though in practice most times it will not, or will not matter).  Be prepared to defend your process and your decision.

This is at the heart of the tendering process.  If bidders do not trust you to evaluate their proposals fairly and in line with what you have published, then there is no point in bidding.

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